Designing a brand is a complex yet delightful kind of project.
As designers, we have the opportunity to make research, define a concept, sketch, draw, experiment with fonts and mostly to transform the vision of a company into visual elements that are going to represent the day by day of a group of people.
An activity where we should use creative strategies as an approach to resolve issues that involve a business in a social context.
A brand is defined not only by creating a logo but by developing multiple elements for the offline and online platforms where the company gets in contact with its customers, associates, and even its own staff.
“Design-driven businesses have outperformed the stock market by a whopping 228% over the last 10 years. It’s no longer enough to just sell a product or service companies must truly engage with their customers.” – dmi.
1. Designing feelings
Products and brands are our keywords if we want to understand the objective of branding.
A product is defined as a “thing produced by labor or effort” ( – Lumen) but specifically in marketing, a product is anything that can be offered to a market that might satisfy a want or a need.
Meaning that a product can be anything from a piece of jewellery, a flight, an online tutorial, to clothes, furniture or even experiences.
Let’s take clothes as an example. Clothes are items that were originally created to cover, protect, and warm the human body and they became a product the day humans started to commercialize it by using body types, social, and geographic considerations as selling features.
Nowadays clothes are not only a need but an expression of personality and interests. And people decide to buy to certain companies instead of the competition because they feel connected in some way.
What is that connection we, as users, feel towards something so abstract as a company?
The products sold are clothes, but in order to convince people to purchase a particular item, marketers developed something like a “corporate personality”. These “personalities” provide a different meaning to the product clothes.
H&M makes you feel young
Zara is fast fashion taken right from the runaway
Adidas makes you casual and sportive
Uniqlo gives the stylish yet affordable feeling
The North Face is activewear that invites you to an adventure
As we can see, marketing experts use visual strategies to make people feel connected with a product or an organization because they feel understood or inspired.
To grow a brand is to shape an emotional bond in the consumer’s minds by using tools such as naming, visual identity, packaging, advertising and communications, in-store experience, online experience, pricing, sponsoring and partnerships.
“A product is what a company sells. A brand is the perceived image of that product. And the branding is the strategy to create that image.” – The Branding Journal.
2. Talk with your client. Talk, talk and talk.
“The design of the logo is never really the hard part of the job. It’s persuading a million people to use it” – Paula Scher.
Every designer has her/his own creative process, it’s something personal we’ve learned at college but we always transform it with practice into our own design thinking and problem-solving.
In my own creative process, the logo isn’t actually the first task I need to solve when starting a branding project.
The concept of a brand is probably going to be the first question in front of the white paper. And to find an answer we need to start the process by listening carefully to our client.
Only by talking we can figure out what is the image that our client has about her/his own company, and what is the image she/he wants to project to her/his own clients.
It is also fundamental to understand what is the product and the context where we are going to sell it.
References are Key!
We should ask about references, about the competitors and what is the general image that comes to our client’s mind about that specific market. We should ask about the brands she/he admires and considers as an influence.
We should ask about music, films, art or any reference that helps us creating a visual universe to start working on.
And last but not least, we should ask about those things our client doesn’t like. The NO’s are really important because they are going to give us aesthetic boundaries.
After this, we have to analyze all this information and transform it into a set of keywords that verbally define the message we want to communicate. And then try to set what is that word that seems to unify everything. That is the main idea.
And Voilà! Now we have a concept to start!
3. How to create Mood-boards
Now that we have a verbal point to start, we can get online to define our brand characteristics visually. We can start looking for visual references.
My favorite platform to do this is Pinterest. Pinterest is literally a catalogue of ideas, where we can find some images to represent our keywords.
(Note: In this step you don’t need to worry about copyright since this is an exercise only for yourself, to get inspired and try to get the feeling of what you want to achieve).
Find some images and organize them together as a collage where you can include text, and even print it and include samples of objects in a composition. When you feel it’s ready double check if the result is still related to the main concept.
Here are some examples of mood boards I’ve created while defining projects:
4. Sketch. From analog to digital to analog to digital again.
Allow your creative mind to wander around the idea. Don’t take decisions right away but try to disconnect from the project and read, watch films, go to a concert, get out of the studio.
“Anything that’s happening between nine and six is kind of the essence. But some stuff has to happen outside the studio. Like going to a museum. The gateway drug is not creating art but experiencing art. Having the whole world explained or even better, turned upside down, just by looking at a few strokes of oil paint on canvas. That’s the greatest thrill I know.“ – Christoph Niemann.
While wandering around draw all the images or icons that come to your mind. You’ll see how inspiration comes while you are giving your brain ideas and it would start visually connecting the keywords with all the information that it gets in contact with.
While drawing remember the story you want to tell the customer, what are the promises the product offers?
5. How to select a Typography
To select a typography for our brand communications, we need to ask ourselves what is the tone of voice that better represents the concept.
Do we want the brand to be relaxed, young, formal, feminine, masculine, modern, traditional or familiar?
The typeface is going to reinforce that feeling because when we read, we see letters and shapes and these things communicate something to us as viewers. We read words but we are also reading typographic form.
When you use text to communicate there are mainly two things that are being communicated.
- There is a level of functionality. Can we read it?
- And there is also an expressive aspect. What does it make us feel?
If we are thinking about the functional considerations we want to start by choosing a typeface that has a wide family so we can use it for a lot of applications of our project, such as catalogues, posters, posts, or banners, among others.
The next thing we would like to look in a pragmatic way is what the type looks like at different sizes. Is it readable?
Narrowed down our options, we still need to choose between millions of typefaces that exists. Let’s start by deciding if we should use a Serif or a Sans Serif typeface to get an idea of how to make decisions.
Serif is a category of typefaces that have small decorative strokes that extend from letters. This typeface category might seem like old-fashioned or traditional. It gives the idea of a brand that is classic, elegant, formal, confident, well established.
Some examples of Serif Typefaces are:
On the other hand, Sans Serif typefaces lack strokes at the end of characters. But the character edges may be either sharp or rounded. This typeface category might look more contemporary and give the idea of a modern, friendly, direct, clean and minimalistic style.
Some examples of Sans Serif Typefaces are:
To make your first decision, think about your concept, how it is related to the tone of voice you want to give to your brand and the differences between how we read Serif and Sans Serif categories.
What about our feelings towards certain shapes?
Connotation deals with the emotive side of typography, how does it make us feel? The best way to understand how we read a form is by comparing one word written in two different typefaces.
The Cooper Black typeface doesn’t look like what we expected to define the concept of Fast, does it? It gives us a heavy feeling, it has a lot of weight, is static, and definitely opposite to what we wanted to express.
On the other hand, Universe LT definitely looks lighter. It has a lot more movement and it’s emphasizing what the word actually says.
But what happens if we remove the letter S?
Then suddenly the Cooper Black is very appropriate. It’s heavy, it’s chubby, it’s big. It’s kind of perfect to express this concept.
Now that you understand that a typeface is also a form, try to choose one that expresses your concept correctly and also technically speaking gives you some freedom to add levels or hierarchy to any graphic element you design for the brand.
6. Make a composition
By this moment of the process we should be asking ourselves, how can we make all the elements that we’ve created, and selected, work together.
To answer that question we should know the possibilities we have. Let’s talk about the difference between logo, isotype, imagotype and isologo, to set the best possible way of creating an engaging brand.
Logo is the most used expression when talking about brands. But we shouldn’t call any brand representation a logo because its meaning is actually “word”, so it defines a typesetting that might be letters, acronyms or a signature.
When we talk about a non-verbal representation, an icon or an image that expresses the company “personality”, we are talking about an isotype (the Thai brands shown below are Jirabell and Typer).
If we find that the pictographic element is not that easy to read without the presence of text, but the concept gets stronger when we combine the graphic with a verbal expression, we are talking about an imagotype. The key to it is that both elements are not united and can be independent and used as an icon or a logo respectively.
And the last option is the isologo which is the kind of representation where the logo and isotype are blended together in a way they cannot be separated because graphically speaking they are a unit. It is the interaction between a symbol and a word.
Now is your time to experiment, and create different versions mixing all the elements you have designed.
Remember, the only way to set what is the best option is by asking feedback from people that don’t know anything about the project and even better if they are not related to the communication field.
7. How to use your brand
Have you ever been at a store that makes you feel like you’ve entered to their on land, because everything seems to be perfectly aligned with their style?
The key to achieving that feeling is to stimulate the user’s imagination by including details everywhere she/he gets in contact with the products.
If we are designing a brand for an ice cream store, there are going to be several objects involved. Cups, napkins, spoons, tables, chairs, signage, and even the music should be aligned with the general feeling we want to express. Branding is a way to subtly shout out that message.
Another tool we have is Stationery Design which is basically the design of office supplies, letterheads, writing equipment, business cards, cases, and any piece of paper to express what is the company activity.
But this is only about the offline world. And if we are creating a brand for an e-commerce store the online world, including the website, and/or the app and social media is going to be the core because is the way we connect with the users virtually.
The key is to remember that we are designing the personality of a company as if it was a person. So remember to tell a story, it allows you to create a connection with the consumers and make them feel inspired and represented.
You should use social media to let the users know what you’re offering but more important than that is to use those platforms to make an emotional bond so they get a positive feeling and then make purchases, make recommendations and return to buy more.
Creating a brand is quite an experience itself, and it’s comforting to see how after the process your client feels represented and her/his customers feel a chemical connection and want to be part of everything the company has to offer.
Design as a creative activity promotes a space in which we can define experiences and feelings, we can actually modify people’s perception of reality.
A big thanks to Perky Bros for letting us use one of their portfolio pieces as header image.